My father and I idly chatted as we leaned against my beloved Civic, dubbed Wash. We co-owned the car because I needed his credit as I was building mine. Now, years later, it was time to let the car go to a new home. We reminisced as we waited for a potential buyer to arrive.
I didn’t realize at the time that by selling Wash, we were dooming him to a fate not dissimilar from its namesake, the ill-fated pilot of the Serenity.
Finding the Gold
We’d looked at plenty of lemons before finding Wash. Our trusted mechanic graciously inspected a Kia, several Hondas, and a Pontiac at minimal cost and told us in no certain terms that we were falling for the salesmen’s tricks. Just because they were shiny and drove well didn’t mean they weren’t dying inside! In our bargain shopping, we seemed destined to be stuck with a car with decaying parts and, more importantly in Florida, no A/C.
Then, we saw Wash. A modest tawny gold-ish color with a classic shape, he wasn’t as flashy as the others. Like his namesake, he was quirky, yet unassuming.
Only a few scratches and a cracked hubcap. The passenger-side door had to be unlocked from the inside. That was it. Our mechanic signed off on it with the warning that we’d just have to treat the eleven-year-old car with care.
There was just one problem — it was a stick shift, and I had no idea how to drive one outside my observations of James Bond movies. I promised my father that I would learn — in turn, the friendly, sturdy Civic seemed to promise the end of my bicycle commute across the blistering pavement.
Good Driving 101
Once I learned stick, which took me several weekends of practice, I quickly realized how many people fail to appreciate the mechanics of driving. There’s no lazy driving when you’re in a stick. You have to be constantly alert and computing the relationship among your trajectory, speed, and the appropriate gear. Any driver who has never driven stick will never know the dance you make with the laws of physics.
Eventually, I got good enough that driving stick became second nature. In fact, I swore I’d never drive automatic again.
Wash was my primary mode of transportation for nearly six years, during which I stuffed him to the gills with cosplays, puppet stages, and circus equipment as I built my life as a professional artist. Wash never failed me, even with his quirks. He needed only basic maintenance, and although I was not great at keeping up on his care, he still kept starting up every morning. He got great mileage and always managed to soak up the last drop of gasoline to allow me to get to the gas station as the E symbol taunted me and my thin wallet. Plus, he was able to deftly handle any traffic conditions—an essential characteristic in Florida traffic conditions.
In fact, he impressed even my die-hard automatic driver friends with his pep and adaptability. With Wash, driving stick was an awesome adventure, and I loved seeing people in big trucks drop their jaws as a Civic showed them up.
Unfortunately, Wash was forever marred by my abuser’s hands. I’d let him drive the car a few times as I was still getting used to driving stick. Wash became a point of contention and a place of torment as my abuser would often start fights while I was driving. One night, he tried to send Wash off the road by yanking the wheel. A cop pulled us over and called for backup, and my abuser got out of the car and ran, screaming at the officers to not listen to any of my lies.
Wash was drenched in my tears.
Time to Say Goodbye
I wanted to escape my tiny town and move to the big city, but Wash was getting older and needed more frequent repairs. I felt guilty for letting him go, but I really needed the money to put down on a car that would handle longer commutes and larger loads. And so, my father and I flipped from buyers to sellers as we tried to find a loving new owner for Wash.
We encountered an … interesting array of people as we tried to sell the car. We listed it on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp, and we were inundated with literally hundreds of annoying questions from people who hadn’t read the very detailed ad, as well as ridiculously low offers less than a quarter of our asking price.
“You’ll never get that much for it,” one sneered.
“I see other cars the same year listed for less,” another informed us. (Then buy those…?)
“I’ll be there to look at the car in 20 minutes,” someone else messaged at 2 p.m. on a Monday. We had not exchanged any previous messages, and I was at work.
“I expected it to look better,” another said, which seemed like an odd thing to request of a 16-year-old car with few marks or dents.
“HELLO?! Is this available? You didn’t answer my message,” read one text sent at 4 a.m. Their previous — and first — message was sent at 2 a.m.
“I made a special trip and you can’t even bother to be home?!” read a message sent by someone who refused to answer my texts, then arrived 30 hours after our agreed-upon meeting time.
My faith in humanity slowly waned as I fielded dozens of messages every day demanding that I drop everything to meet with them because they had “cash in hand,” trying to guilt me into dropping my price because “I’m a person in need and you would really be helping me out,” or acting as though they’d be doing me a huge favor by paying me $300 for the car. There were also a bunch of sexually harassing and flirtatious messages, because some men will take any opportunity to sexualize a strange woman. I strongly suspect that these “buyers” had no interest in buying a car.
As my father and I waited outside the car, the world’s most entitled buyer pulled up. He skipped the “hello” and immediately launched into an overly detailed explanation of how he could tell by the microscopic bubbles in the body paint that we’d had extensive repairs and a new paint job after a major accident. (We’d neither had an accident nor body repairs done.) “You must have done it in a cheap shop,” he declared.
He inspected the recently changed oil and said, “Oh, thank you for never changing the oil.” He noticed the cracked hubcap and laughed at me. “What, you hit a curb?” After getting a few more digs at me, such a silly woman driver, he offered us $1,200 less than our asking price, citing the extensive cosmetic repairs he’d need to make.
We declined. But I learned that day that people will make up literally anything to save themselves money.
Eventually, we did sell Wash to a charming young man who paid only a little less than our asking price in cash. He said he needed an extra vehicle so that he didn’t have to drive his work truck everywhere. And so, I bid farewell to the car that had defined my twenties. It was a rather unceremonious affair. We signed the paperwork, I gave the buyer the key, and he drove his truck home so that his friend could drop him off to pick up the car. Hours later, I peeked out my window and watched Wash drive away, my Harry Potter decal still on the back window.
The Twist Ending
I bought a used CR-V that helped me move to the big city. It had an automatic transmission, which I accepted despite my previous insistence that I’d never drive anything but stick. I did like that it could link to my phone with Bluetooth, but I missed driving a manual — although not on I-4. I named the new car Rocket Raccoon, after my next favorite sci-fi pilot.
My father, who still lives in my old town, saw Wash, recognizable by its Harry Potter decal. When he saw the driver get out, he noticed that it was not our buyer. He approached the man, who said that he had just bought the car. The previous owner — our buyer — had gotten into a serious wreck, and the whole engine needed to be replaced, he said.
The new owner loved the car, he said. He’d been needing a car and this one had helped him be able to get a job and get his life back on track.
I was shocked and angered to hear about the accident, yet proud of my old car. Wash’s buyer had wrecked him, and yet Wash was still going —on to help someone else who really needed him.
Ultimately, I didn’t have to feel guilty about letting Wash go. He ended up with another person who appreciated him and took care of him. His story is not too dissimilar from mine. I too went from a loving relationship to an abusive one, yet stumbled upon someone who loved and truly appreciated me. We both had a chance to get fixed up again.
My father said he sees the car around town every so often. Wash still bears the Harry Potter decal I put on him, which reads, “Always.”
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